You Can’t Build If You Don’t Know Where

April 15, 2013

Planning and Growth Management Committee

Remember that time I wrote something to the affect of, aside from the Budget Committee and maybe the Executive Committee, cityplanning5no committee was as important as the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee? Friday, I think it was.

Well, it seems I might have to revise that statement slightly after attending the Planning and Growth Management Committee meeting. It’s tough to build sewers and roads, lay track for rapid transit or sell off chunks of public space in return for ad revenue without knowing exactly where to do all that. Thus, Planning and Growth Management. Providing the proverbial blueprints in order for the digging to begin.

Planning and Growth Management is the yin to Public Works and Infrastructure yang of city building.

The Planning and Growth Management Committee’s primary focus is on urban form, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on planning, growth, and development of the City.

The first thing I learned at PGMC is that you have to actually have quorum to proceed with a meeting. Fifteen minutes after the scheduled start, if more than half the committee members are not present, that’s it. cityplanning2Recess until after lunch.

A bit of an eye-opener for anyone who’s made other plans for later in the day.

Fortunately, I’m not such a person.

Setting aside any petulance I might’ve had about this meeting not being important enough for a majority of its members to attend so why should I, I returned for the afternoon session. Quorum was achieved. The meeting got underway.

What quickly became apparent was that if there’s no Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong or Doug Ford on a committee, things move along very smoothly. Smoothly, amicably, productively. Why, near the end of Thursday’s meeting, when the committee chair, Councillor Peter Milczyn, put a motion up, the rest of the committee plus staff had input editing it to everyone’s satisfaction. Right there up on the screen for all to see.

Consensus!

While it’s certainly impossible to deny city council as a whole may be dysfunctional at the moment, it would be incorrect to assume the entire place is broken. Some vital organs are still operating. cityplanning4And it isn’t as if there’s nothing potentially contentious in the Planning and Growth Management file. Just think about two of those words. Planning. Growth. You’re doing what now to my neighbourhood?

If Public Works and Infrastructure is about the big ticket items money-wise, Planning and Growth Management deals with the aspirational big ticket items. Big ideas in theory. Transformative initiatives in a bid to make a city a better place.

Here’s some of the motions discussed at Thursday’s meeting:

Official Plan Amendment Application. Updated City-wide Tall Building Design Guidelines. Strategic Forest Management Plan. Addressing Mobility, Aligning Growth and Transit.

Everybody can point to planning projects that failed, some miserably so. Utter the name Robert Moses in many circles and observe the slow shaking of heads and guttural moans of disapproval. cityplanning3Toronto is undergoing two massive redevelopments at Regent’s Park and Lawrence Heights in an attempt to correct the mistakes of a previous era’s city planning approach.

But the thing about urban planning is, as with many of the social sciences, it isn’t an exact science. Even with the noblest of intentions, we can only proceed with the best available knowledge and information we have at hand. To expect anything more, to demand perfection, is futile, unreasonable and, ultimately, harmful. There are always going to be bumps in the road ahead, tweaks and overhauls that need to be done.

The worst thing a city could do in the face of problems that arise is to remain static. Fighting change because sometimes change doesn’t work. A reasonable and fact-based approach to planning and growth management is of supreme importance to any city’s future well-being. cityplanningIt should be the buttress against rampant, greed-based development, and residents need to be vigilant that’s what the committee is doing.

Councillor Josh Colle, the PGMC vice-chair, asked an interesting question of staff after the Tall Building Design Guideline presentation. In essence he wondered how best to lay out plans for tall buildings – intensification, basically – to neighbourhoods that have never had them before. Big, necessary change is afoot, folks. Here’s how we think it should happen.

Planning and Growth Management is not just about the kind of city we want to live in but the kind of city we leave to our kids and grandkids. The big of idea of posterity. Everybody needs to be a part of that discussion and, perhaps even more importantly, everybody needs to trust that the best interests of the city are being served and not just those of a selective few.

A tall order in the current environment of divisiveness and general scepticism toward the public good at City Hall. cityplanning1So it’s refreshing to watch, at least in one small corner, at a very important committee level, a communal sense of purpose between councillors of varying political stripes, and between elected officials and city staff.  Working together rather than looking to score cheap partisan points.

Yes Virginia, there can be accord at City Hall. You just need to know where to look for it.

smilingly submitted by Cityslikr